As the year comes once again to a close, many of us find ourselves preoccupied with thoughts of the holidays—especially the gift giving (and receiving) aspects. Of course, there are always many reminders from different quarters that the “reason for the season” is not material, yet it’s still difficult to find a way to redirect that focus. Our advice to you this holiday season is to choose a proactive way to capture the spirit of the season—by placing a special focus on your holiday cards.
Why Not Focus on Gifts?
We’ve heard over and over again that the holidays are becoming too materialistic, but aside from religious reasons or a rather vague sense of negativity towards materialism, the downside of focusing on presents isn’t often explained. But there definitely are downsides.
A focus on presents makes the holidays a particularly difficult time for the less fortunate.
This seems obvious, of course, yet we often don’t think this through. Perhaps this year your child will be getting an Xbox One or their favourite games for the console, or some other equally wonderful and exciting gift. And perhaps they’ll believe it’s because Santa thinks they’ve been good, or if they’re older, that you appreciate their good behaviour. It’s not that this train of thought is necessarily an awfully negative one.
But when kids get together to discuss what they got for Christmas, the actual flaw in this thinking becomes clearer. Did Sarah not get a PS4 because Santa or her parents thought she was poorly behaved? Of course not. She didn’t receive a PS4 because her parents made less money than Alex’s parents, who received the Xbox One he requested.
Unfortunately, there’s a pervasive sense that holiday gifts are, either directly or tangentially, tied to merit. Whether or not your child receives gifts that are more or less expensive than their peers isn’t the issue; the issue is that they should understand that in either case, gifts shouldn’t be the central focus of the season.
Making Memories is More Important
Think back. Now, there are a few memories I have of really wonderful gifts I received during the holidays—but my most permanent holiday memories have less to do with gifts than with experiences. Spending time on my great aunt’s farm, which I only visited a few times a year, having fried ham and toast sandwiches for breakfast at my grandmother’s before going outside to play in the snow—these memories are far more precious to me than any of the gifts I’ve ever received.
I often wonder how many more of those precious memories I’d have stored away if I’d had the foresight to concentrate on those special moments with loved ones rather than what might be in the piles of packages under the tree. Even if a family isn’t particularly materialistic, it is so easy to be swept away in the rush to buy, wrap, and exchange—especially when every shop, every ad, ever commercial that we’re inundated with for months encourages that.
It’s not that the magic of holiday gift giving is bad. It’s lovely to see someone’s face light up at a gift, and it’s lovely to realize someone you cared about thought about you deeply and chose something you’ll enjoy as a present. But when gifts become the sole focus, so many other, more important aspects of the holidays are left behind.
It’s one thing to try to not do something—not focus on gifts, for example. But unless you decide to go completely giftless over the holidays (and somehow communicate this in a positive way to friends and family), it can be extremely difficult to find the right balance. So we’re not advocating adopting a negative view of gift giving. Instead, we suggest finding something more positive—more in tune with the meaning of the season—as the centrepiece for your celebrations.
It’s much more effective to choose something constructive to focus on, to keep your priorities in order. Allow gifts to naturally take the backburner while you pour your efforts into something that better embodies the love and care that the season represents. We’ve chosen to holiday cards as that focal point. Why?
Cards can be nearly as inexpensive as you wish, and as personal as you wish to make them. A handcrafted card can cost only pennies, but becomes a treasured heirloom that represents every special memory you’ve shared with the recipient over the year. Cards can include photos of your favourite memories, or drawings of the same. A few well-chosen, hand-written lines can convey the sincerest sentiments and deepest affection.
And unlike the latest console or tablet, which will be obsolete in six months or two years, a card can be kept and treasured for a lifetime. Imagine, when you child goes to school and shares with friends what they’ve received over the holidays, she says, “Mum gave me a card with a drawing of me as Supergirl!” What do you think she’ll remember fondly in twenty years, or even fifty? A Justin Bieber themed duvet, or that card, now lovingly preserved in a box of her keepsakes?
Also, cards are acceptable for nearly everyone on your list—and they can be given in addition to more traditional gifts. Your nieces and nephews will appreciate cards that remind them of special moments throughout the year, your brothers and sisters will smile when they realize that no matter how busy day to day life is, you’ll always be thinking about how special they are siblings, and so on. And of course, your parents—for whom receiving gifts probably long ago became one of the less important aspects of the holidays; seeing their children and grandchildren has become far more important—will love to receive a thoughtful, hand-written or hand-crafted card from you.
And finally, we live in a day and age when communication has become so fleeting, so impermanent. It’s convenient and productive, of course—to send an email rather than a handwritten letter, to send an MMS or even a Snap that disappears in moments instead of getting film developed. But it also lends a sense of transience to life that perhaps, now and then, we might want to counteract, with something we can hold, touch, and keep. Not because it is an expensive gift, but because it’s close to our hearts.